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Oral-History:Michael Adler

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Contents

About Michael Adler

Born in 1943, Michael Adler was raised in Detroit, Michigan. Enjoying science and math as a child, he began attending the electrical engineering program at MIT in 1961. He received multiple degrees at MIT – bachelors in 1965, masters in 1967, electrical engineering degree in 1968 and PhD in 1971 in theoretical and experimental solid state physics. After MIT, Adler worked for GE in an electrical engineering group first  on a magnetic bubble memory and then  on semiconductor devices. Some devices he worked on included the Insulated Gate Bipolor Transistor (IGBT), high voltage power MOSFET’s, and the High Voltage Integrated Circuit (HVIC). In 1985, Adler became director of a GE lab group, and retired from GE in 2000 after almost 30 years, briefly working with Mechanical Technologies Corporation (MTI). Adler joined the IEEE after beginning work at GE. His initial interactions with the Institute were delivering papers at Electron Device Society meetings in the early 1970s. In 1982, he was the chair of the Electron Devices Schenectady chapter, and was also general chairman of the International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM). He served in many positions for the Electron Device Society, eventually becoming Division 1 director and Region 1 director, also serving on TAB and the Board, becoming TAB VP and VP for Publications. In 2003, Adler was IEEE President, and stayed active after his presidency as chair of a committee on Fellow awards. Adler became an IEEE Fellow in 1987.

In this interview, Adler discusses his education and work at GE, but it is his involvement with IEEE that is covered most. He talks about joining IEEE not as a student but while working at GE, and his early involvement through paper writing. He also talks about how his interest in becoming management developed in the 1980s through his interest in sailing. Adler also covers the various positions, committees and groups he has been involved in throughout his work with IEEE, discussing the various issues addressed by the Electron Device Society and its AdCom, TAB and the Board as well as his presidency. Some of the major issues he talks about are globalization, connection to industry, financial crisis and Board structure. Adler also goes into his reasons for running for IEEE President and his campaign, and the staff he worked with as president. Some IEEE colleagues he mentions include Matt Loeb, Bruce Eisenstein, Wally Read, Ray Findlay, Dan Senese and Leah Jamieson.

About the Interview

MICHAEL ADLER: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, 29 December 2009

Interview #524 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Michael Adler, an oral history conducted in 2009 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Michael Adler

Interviewer: Sheldon Hochheiser

Date: 29 December 2009

Location: Saratoga Springs, New York

Background and Education

Hochheiser:

This is December 29th, 2009. I’m Sheldon Hochheiser from the IEEE History Center. I’m here with IEEE Past President Michael Adler. Good afternoon.

Adler:

Good afternoon.

Hochheiser:

If we could begin with a little bit of background?

Adler:

Okay.

Hochheiser:

Where were you born and raised?

Adler:

Detroit, Michigan. In 1943 I was born there, and pretty much stayed there right until I went to college in 1961. And I went to MIT in Massachusetts, or the Boston area, Cambridge.

Hochheiser:

What did your parents do?

Adler:

My parents, both my parents were totally deaf. They were born with their hearing but they lost it during their lifetime. My father started out as a land surveyor, and they were both college-educated. They met in Washington, D.C. at the only college for deaf people, called Gallaudet College, and they got married, and my father, as I say, started out as a land surveyor. My mother was a homemaker for most of the time when I was in high school and college, but then she went off onto a career of her own, and she worked for the state of Michigan on programs for the deaf. And then she moved on and she got a job at the federal level with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare also working on programs for the deaf. And so she was in Washington. My father quit his land-surveying career and ended up as a professor at Gallaudet teaching mathematics.

Hochheiser:

Were you interested in technology and science growing up?

Adler:

I was always good with my hands, always doing woodworking. I ended up as an electrical engineer, but I didn’t necessarily have that inclination early on. I was always interested in science, and obviously going to MIT was a strong indication of that.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Adler:

I wouldn’t have gone there otherwise.

Hochheiser:

Did you have a specific program in mind when you entered MIT?

Adler:

No I didn’t other than that I knew I enjoyed science and mathematics. But it was only after my freshman year that I decided. It seems like my fraternity had quite a number of people who were electrical engineers, and in fact it was the largest department at MIT; of about 900 incoming freshman, 300 and plus were electrical engineering; so, anyway I went with that. And I’ve enjoyed it.

Hochheiser:

What was the undergraduate curriculum like when you were at MIT?

Adler:

Well, it was it was different than it is now—my son went to MIT too, so I know what it is now. There’s a few more safeguards and it’s a little more friendly place than it was when I went there. The freshman year was pretty brutal. If you’re coming from just out of high school and going to MIT, it was a real regimen. For many years I had dreams about taking exams. I don’t have any dreams anymore, but I did for many, many years. As a freshmen, exams started out every Friday after about three weeks into the term and you had an exam in the same room, with all 900 freshmen . Well, actually it was 450 in two rooms, and it was a physics, chemistry, calculus—physics, chemistry, calculus, and in some ways it was something that was almost a nightmare. You’d be in this terrible—this huge large room, and with all these other freshmen, and if the exam went well, fine, but if it didn’t, you’d be halfway through it and some guy would climb out of his seat and say, another day, another A, and stomp out of the room. In fact, he probably had no clue, but he made a grand exit. By the time you left the room after the exam was over, you knew every right answer, so you knew exactly how you did, because everybody was talking about it.

So, anyway, the freshman year was a tough year. But after that things smoothed out, and I took an advanced electrical engineering curricula known then as 6II, and I did get into some special courses in semiconductor physics, and they were just being developed at MIT at that time, something called the SEEC committee on semiconductor physics. So I ended up taking those. And that actually ended up shaping the direction I would take in graduate school.

I stayed at MIT for another six years. So I graduated in ’65 first, and then I graduated again in ’67, ’68, and ’71, so I ended up with four degrees from MIT, all in electrical engineering. And how can you get four? You can get a bachelor’s degree.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Adler:

You can get a master’s degree. They have something called an electrical engineering degree, which I didn’t actually try to get, but they just told me I had earned it, and did I want it? And I said well, why not. And so I got that degree. Then I got my PhD in 1971. That was in theoretical and experimental solid state physics. Not semiconductor devices but solid-state physics.

Hochheiser:

Who did you work with?

Adler:

Well, I started out with Professor Arthur Smith, A.C. Smith as he was known in the electrical engineering department. He ended up taking a sabbatical, so three of his students ended up with Steve Senturia who became our thesis advisor. It took me about four years to complete my PhD and it was on nuclear magnetic resonance of lead tin telluride. It was a solid that had a very narrow band gap so it was of interest to the navy as an infrared detector. They funded the research. I had built my spectrometer as a Master thesis and I used it for the experimental part of my PhD. What we were measuring was a shift in the nuclear resonance caused by the magnetic field of the valence electrons. This is called the hyperfine coupling. I measured this shift as a function of temperature all the way down to liquid helium temperatures 3K and as a function of the alloy percentage of lead and tin. I then did a theoretical analysis to determine properties of the band structure of the material as a function of temperature and alloy composition. This theoretical work took the last year of my PhD and I combined my data with other types on measurements to get a pretty good lock on the band structure. One of the interesting features is that at a certain tin composition the band gap went to zero at helium temperatures and then the valence band and the conduction band reversed themselves. It was interesting to see the effect on the hyperfine coupling at these temperatures and we saw an oscillation in the resonance frequency as a function of temperatures. I published several papers on the work and these were my first publications.

Hochheiser:

It must have been interesting work.

Adler:

Yes it was but I had a real time of it completing my thesis before the June MIT graduation. My adviser, Steve Senturia, went to bat for me and I was able to hand in the thesis the day that the MIT board voted on the degrees which was only two days before graduation. Steve was great and would take new parts of the thesis as they were completed any time of the day and even on weekends. I had been getting only several hours of sleep a night for the last three weeks and stayed up for three days at the very end. My wife Virginia did the typing and she pulled some long nights as well. I had lost my parking permit because I had left the car parked in an illegal spot once too many times. I was reduced to cycling between Newton and MIT. After I handed in my thesis I started to ride back to Newton but could not stay awake and was in danger of falling asleep on the bike. I stopped at a spot along the Charles River in Cambridge and slept for several hours. I then made it home and slept for 24 hours.

It was great to be able to graduate then. My parents were there for the graduation and we had a weeklong celebration. As I think back at it I am still amazed that it all worked out. In the interim between graduation and going to work for GE I took sailing lessons at the sailing pavilion on the Charles. The boats had been there for the entire ten years I was at MIT but I waited until then to take a boat out. This began my sailing career and after working for less than a year we bought our first sail boat, a Tanzer 22.

General Electric

Hochheiser:

Did you join IEEE while you were a student?

Adler:

I did not join until I started work at General Electric because my PhD was in physics and not engineering. Once at GE I ended up pretty quickly getting into semiconductor devices and I joined the IEEE at that point. And I got active with it pretty quickly.

Hochheiser:

Sure. At what point did you decide that you wanted to earn a PhD?

Adler:

Well, it’s interesting. I think quite some time before. I was pretty convinced I was going to get a PhD even when I started going to MIT. I didn’t know what field it would be, but I was pretty convinced I was just going to do it. There’s a funny story that I tell people. I was a freshman in high school, and I was sitting next to this girl, and she was talking about how rough it was. She’s a freshman too, and talked about how she’s not going to be able to finish this term, and couldn't take it, and she doesn’t think she’ll be able to handle it. And I was thinking, I didn’t say this to her, but I was thinking in the back of my mind, well, I have four years here, I’m going to do four years at college, then graduate school, and a PhD, so I was looking at, at that point, probably 15 years of school, and she was trying to talk herself into getting through the following week, so—

Hochheiser:

[Laughter]

Adler:

I’ve never forgotten that. But so I pretty much entered, even in high school, knowing I was going to do a PhD. I just didn’t know what field it was.

Hochheiser:

What led you to join GE upon completing your PhD?

Adler:

I came out not at the greatest time in the world for jobs, 1971. There was a recession going on then. But it was a job I was interested in. I had interviewed several places, and they offered me a job to work in an electrical engineering group. It sounded interesting, and there was a lot of flexibility. In those days it was the GE R&D Center in Niskayuna. GE R&D in those days had more research content to what it was doing. Most of its money was assessed, provided by GE—in other words, we didn’t have to get contracts to do most of the work. If you found something that seemed interesting and in the general direction that the group was in, you had a fair amount of flexibility in pursuing that. And so I ended up first working on a magnetic bubble memory device that was intended to be a position sensor. I then fairly quickly got into the semiconductor devices, in particular power semiconductor devices.

Hochheiser:

Which clearly related to General Electric’s business.

Adler:

It did. And GE at that time had a semiconductor division which had both a power division and an integrated circuit division, although they ended up selling their computer business several years before to Honeywell.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Adler:

Yes, to Honeywell. But they still had the semiconductor business, and plus the semiconductors were not just for the business of making semiconductors commercially, because the company had many product divisions which were users of electronics, power electronics. And so we did a fair amount of our work as time evolved for some of our divisions, developing special devices and circuits for them, which ultimately were made by our semiconductor business.

Hochheiser:

How was GE Research as a place to work in the 1970s?

Adler:

It was very nice. I thought it was very good. It evolved quite a bit and we had to get contracts to support the work. As a result the work became more applied but we were able to get some assessed money and government contracts to continue the more research oriented work. It’s always been a good place to work, it’s just changed as global competition increased and we were under more pressure to have an impact on the bottom line. I enjoyed it all the time I was there. I retired in the year 2000, so I was there for 29 years, almost 30 years. In the seventies it had a real research flavor to it. There was some fairly basic semiconductor work going on, not in my group but in some of the other groups. I was always more device oriented. We ended up inventing devices, so we were mostly device oriented, but we ended up doing some solid state device physics on silicon for which I published a number of papers. We also invented some new devices such as the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor(IGBT), high voltage power MOSFET's, and the High Voltage Integrated Circuit(HVIC). These devices are now a very important part of the power device business and have made a large impact on adding electronic controls to everything from locomotives, aircraft engines, appliances, screw-in fluorescent light bulbs, wind turbines, and steel rolling equipment as examples. These new controls have improved the efficiency and performance of these many products. I think overall these new devices and the understanding of their device physics was the major accomplishment of my career at GE. Overall, I published over 100 papers and conference proceedings and it was this work that led to my becoming an IEEE Fellow in 1987.

Electron Device Society and IEDM

Hochheiser:

You mentioned that you got involved with and active at IEEE for the first time not long after you joined GE?

Adler:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

The first interactions I found with you with IEEE were giving papers at Electron Device meetings beginning [in] about ’72 or ’73.

Adler:

Yes I, as I said earlier, I started at GE and for the first couple of years the work I was doing was on solid state magnetic bubble memories. And then that ended, and I ended up with a group that was doing power semiconductor devices, and that was when I started publishing papers and most of them would be at the International Electron Device Meeting, the IEDM.

Hochheiser:

Were you involved with the Schenectady section? Or the Schenectady Chapter?

Adler:

Yes. I was involved and became the chair of the Electron Devices chapter in 1982. However most of my service with the IEEE began through the Electron Devices Society. This started by first giving papers, but then getting involved in the running of the meetings itself.

Hochheiser:

In the early eighties you were the chair of one of the meetings.

Adler:

Yes. There was a sequence that you entered when you get involved with the IEDM. I think it was probably in the late seventies that I got involved in it, and you were allowed to stay on the program committee for three years, and at the end of that, either you’re out or you were selected to become the chairman-elect of the entire conference. Needless to say only one person a year was selected so it was quite an honor. I think this was responsible for launching my extended career in the IEEE. Back to the IEDM itself, you then entered into a sequence for another three years, because you ran through being a chairman-elect, then you become program chairman, then the general chairman, so I was general chairman in 1982.

Hochheiser:

Right. What does the general chairman of a meeting do?

Adler:

Well, let me say what the program chair does, because the program chair is the bigger job. It turns out that the middle year is where you really are doing most of your work, almost like being IEEE president. What you do is organize the whole program for the meeting. That conference is a three-day conference with seven parallel sections, just a lot of papers, and we had about seven or eight different technical committees in various aspects of electron devices to which papers were submitted. The committees were in areas such as solid state devices, physics of devices, semiconductor processing, integrated circuits, display and sensor devices and electron tubes. Each committee reviewed relevant papers, and we would have a meeting to select papers in the early fall. The program chair organizes all of that and is really responsible for how the conference is put together and organized.

Hochheiser:

How large was the conference?

Adler:

Well, during those days it was pretty big. I think it got over 2,000 attendees. Its probable heyday was just about at the time when I was there. In fact, during when I was in the chairman sequence several new features were added to the conference. The conference had always been held in Washington, D.C., but when I was general chair the meeting was held in San Francisco for the first time. The reason for the change was that a great deal of the work in semiconductors was carried out in Silicon Valley and Japan. Having the meeting in San Francisco made it much easier for people from there to attend. And so we started a back and forth sequence at that point between the East and the West Coasts. And the other thing that changed at that time was the addition of evening panel sessions. I contributed to some of these changes, but some of the things had started before that time. I enjoyed that a lot. It was a great experience and that’s really what got me started in a sort of big way into the IEEE.

Sailing and GE Management

Hochheiser:

I noticed from your bio in 1985 you became the director of a rather substantial laboratory group with General Electric.

Adler:

That’s right. For most of my career at GE, up until the late seventies, I was an individual contributor, so I wrote lots of papers. I got really involved in the technology, and I really wasn’t interested in management. This is how I made my name in the field and became an IEEE fellow. But then around the end of the seventies decade I did some things in my personal life that changed my focus professionally. I ended up getting involved with sailing in a big way, and there was a fair amount of organization involved, because we would actually take our boat up into Newfoundland. I had sold our 30 foot sailboat and bought a 27 foot boat that made it possible to trailer the boat. I had sailed to Newfoundland with a good friend and I caught the bug and wanted to be able to sail my own boat there. The catch was I only had several weeks of vacation and so it was not feasible to sail all the way there and back. So I bought the new boat, a trailer, a big truck and worked out the whole scheme of trailering the boat to Cape Breton and having the boat launched there. We then sailed across Cabot Strait and cruised the south coast of Newfoundland. After about six visits, we even put the boat on the ferry and had the boat launched in Newfoundland. Our daughter, Emily, and our son, Jerry, sort of grew up there as we would go back almost every year, seventeen times, in fact. I found, hey, I actually enjoyed this, the process of organizing this whole thing. So I said, well, maybe management would be of some interest. So I ended up going up through the ranks, so to speak, becoming a program manager, unit manager, branch manager, then a laboratory manager. It’s that position you’re referring to.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Adler:

My first two management jobs were actually managing the power device group that I had been an individual contributor in. I then got a promotion to the next level, lab manager, which added power electronic circuit and motor work to my responsibilities. The lab morphed a bit through the years, but that was the job I pretty much had until I retired in 2000. As I mentioned the lab started out in power electronics, but as time evolved we added a semiconductor packaging emphasis to it. There was also a control theory group added later on and for awhile I also had a lamp group that supported our lighting business in Cleveland. The semiconductor work disappeared when GE sold the semiconductor business, but we had morphed that semiconductor work into this semiconductor packaging activity. This was based on a new technology that we invented called HDI for high density interconnect. We basically put chips on a substrate almost touching each other and then we applied several layers of metal and polymer interconnect on top to make essentially a super chip. This work was supported largely by the aerospace business in General Electric as well by government contracts.

Electronic Device Society and AdCom

Hochheiser:

Now after you finished being the chair of the international conference did you have any other significant IEEE activities through the eighties?

Adler:

I ended up being involved with the Electronic Device Society. I started out with the meetings committee and that eventually led to becoming the meetings program chair for the Electronic Device Society from 1986 to1992. From 1990 to1996 I was also on the administrative committee of the Society called the AdCom. And then after that I became nominated to be president of the society.

Hochheiser:

What in general does a society AdCom do, or what did this particular society AdCom do while you were on it?

Adler:

The Electronic Device Society was a very active society and had a very active Adcom. It’s not, certainly, one of the bigger societies, but it was one of the most active. The Adcom is really responsible for managing all the activities of the society, including publications, meetings, awards, and chapter support and, of course, its finances. We had several publications, the Transactions, and Letters, and a magazine. But in addition to that there are all the conferences. And so if someone wanted to have a conference sponsored by the IEEE and specifically our society, they would come to us with a little business plan. They would present it, and we would either agree or not agree to sponsor it. So an average Adcom meeting which was held twice a year was involved with reviewing the publications, certainly the finances, but also conferences, awards, and chapter support. The society gives out a number of awards, so there’s an awards committee that goes around looking for suitable candidates, and it was quite active. And then I added a new activity. I was trying to globalize the society and make it more of an international society. It always was, but we had clearly the vast majority of our chapters in the United States. And so I ended up with an initiative that started in Region 8, Europe, to develop more chapters there. When I was chair we ended up running several chapter chairmen meetings in Europe, and they continued even after I was chair. We would go to Europe and have a chapter chair meeting where we made presentations about the society activities and heard reports from the chapter chairmen as to activities in their chapters. They also would make requests for support of their chapter which we were pretty good about following through on. With some of the Eastern European chapters, we were able to sponsor memberships, because the membership cost was significantly high relative to a person's income in some of the countries. And so we supported memberships, and in many cases we gave enough of them that they could form a chapter. And so we ended up with many new chapters in Europe

Hochheiser:

And as far as Eastern Europe, this is just about the time that those countries were emerging from behind the iron curtain.

Adler:

That’s right. Most of the chapters that we sponsored were in Eastern Europe. And we did a lot of work with other societies, jointly sponsoring society chapters, particularly with MTT, Microwave Theory and Techniques. So that was a fairly active period for me. We ended up adding over 60 new chapters or new society affiliations. New society affiliations mean that additional societies ended up supporting an existing chapter. This helped to make the chapters stronger as they had more societies to draw strength and support from. The chapter chair meetings were continued and expanded to Region 10, the Far East and Region 9 Latin America. I feel that this activity was the main accomplishment of my time with the Electron Device Society.

Hochheiser:

Did your colleagues in Eastern Europe have a problem getting access to and keeping up with the literature?

Adler:

They did, and that led to another initiative that we did. We were able to give them microfiche copies of our publications. Now at the time that was still a viable form of a library and was often the only means for members in Eastern Europe to get access to publications. So this became another one of my initiatives.

Hochheiser:

What led you to decide you wanted to be president of the society?

Adler:

It’s hard to say if it was a real stream of consciousness there, but it just seemed to morph in that direction. During the 80's I was getting into higher management in GE. As we discussed I became a lab manager, managing over 150 people at one time. Well, my career with the IEEE kind of was running in parallel with that. As I got more involved with upper level management in GE, I sort of ran that parallel track in the IEEE. And I guess I naturally enjoyed it, and so I would seek out those opportunities to move up in responsibility. I think both my IEEE career and my career in GE worked well together and I feel that my development as a manager benefited from both activities.

Hochheiser:

Now, is the society president elected by the AdCom or by the membership?

Adler:

Just the AdCom.

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] Just the AdCom.

Adler:

The AdCom also elects the society president.

Hochheiser:

We mentioned one of your initiatives that I assume went through your presidency—working with Europe and particularly Eastern Europe.

Adler:

[Interposing] Yes.

Hochheiser:

Were there other initiatives or notable things from your presidency?

Adler:

We morphed the Region 8 activity into other regions as well, and so we ended up having chapter chair meetings for Region 9 and Region 10. They’re not as easy to run because the geography is spread out. Europe is [a] relatively tight region, and so it’s relatively easy to have a meeting. We would actually sponsor the travel for many of the chapter chairs, because they otherwise couldn’t attend these meetings. I didn’t directly get involved in those other regions, but what I did in Region 8 became the template for our work in Regions 9 and 10. After being society president from 1992 to 1995 I became Division 1 director which was made up of about 5 societies. That was how I ended up on the board for the first time, and getting involved with the broader IEEE.

TAB, Division 1 Director and Board

Hochheiser:

Can we back up a bit. While you were society president, now being, did being society president put you on TAB?

Adler:

Oh yes, of course.

Hochheiser:

Do you have any recollections of TAB meetings from that period?

Adler:

You know, that’s very funny too. It was a zoo. I went to those TAB meetings, and I was just almost clueless about the whole thing. The meetings consisted of this huge group of over 50 members representing all of the IEEE societies and councils, division directors and TAB committee chairs. I mean it’s even bigger than the IEEE board, and I was just amazed by the sheer size and complexity of it. I just did not understand how anything worked. I can’t say I had any really strong memories, other than just the fact that it was all very confusing.

Hochheiser:

I’ve heard similar things from others. That would’ve, I guess, been your first exposure to overall IEEE?

Adler:

It was. Attending the board meetings became a part of my life for quite a while going forward, in different forms. By the time I became director, I had been on TAB for some time. And so coming in as a director I at least had a better feel for what was expected and how TAB worked by that point. I became much more involved with the organization than I had when I first arrived.

Hochheiser:

How did you come to be the Division 1 director?

Adler:

Well that’s something you have to get elected to.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Adler:

And so I think after I was president I decided that this was something I could aspire to. So I ended up being nominated, and then running for election as Division 1 director.

Hochheiser:

Do you recall whether - was it a contested election?

Adler:

Yes, they are. And I won right out. I never actually ever lost an IEEE election [Laughter] that was put to the members. I did lose an election in the IEEE assembly, but not one that was actually put to the general membership.

Hochheiser:

Did you do any campaigning?

Adler:

Not as division director. You know, the Electronic Device Society is in Division 1. We’re a fairly big society in the division, and so the Electronic Device president has a pretty good chance of being elected as division director.

Hochheiser:

So you get elected division director, and now for the first time you’re on the IEEE board.

Adler:

Joining the IEEE Board was somewhat like when I was first on TAB. Although the board actually was a little more sane than TAB. As large as the board was, it was still smaller and a little more cohesive than TAB. I felt like I could contribute on the board fairly quickly. So it wasn’t quite the cultural shock that coming in to TAB was.

Hochheiser:

Being on TAB was good preparation for [Laughter] being on the Board.

Adler:

It was, because the running of it was actually easier than TAB—and I eventually ran both organizations. Running TAB was actually like herding cats and there were a lot of egos who felt that what they were doing as societies was more important than anything that TAB did. They were probably right.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Adler:

And that after becoming vice president [of TAB] and running those meetings, I found that running the board meetings was easier than running a TAB meeting. Being a TAB member prepares you well for being a board member, because many of the issues are similar and you are prepared for the chaos of running a meeting with so many disparate people. However, each has its own unique issues and characteristics and challenges.

Board Structure and Governance

Hochheiser:

Do you recall any particular issues from your early years on the Board, from while you were Division 1 director?

Adler:

Yes. One of the issues that was always present from when I was first there, and is still there now and may be forever, is the issue of the board structure and its governance. I remember there was a blue ribbon committee that was led by Pete Morley, who preceded me as TAB VP. This committee went on for several years and a great deal of time was spent on it and little was ever accomplished. Wally Read, a past IEEE president, also led a subsequent activity on governance with the same result.

Hochheiser:

[Laughter]

Adler:

It’s probably one of the biggest issues that will always be there, like IEEE finances. I’m jumping ahead a little bit to my time as president, but the IEEE ended up hiring a consulting company the year before I became president. Its job was to take a look at the way we operated and make suggestions. And so we spent a fair amount of money on this, and like what often happens with recommendations from consultants everywhere, we totally disregarded it. [Laughter] And I, as president, took another fling at it and with equal lack of success.

Hochheiser:

The one structural change that I know happened in this period in the nineties was the USAB becoming IEEE-USA.

Adler:

Yes, I must admit, I didn’t have a strong feeling about that one way or the other, so it doesn’t stick in my memory as much as these broader governance discussions.

Hochheiser:

So did you have feelings that there were changes that should have been made at the time?

Adler:

Yes. Absolutely. I think the board has many problems, and it goes right to its basic structure. There’s just too many on the board, and the tenures on the board are too short, because you’re turning over a third of the members every year, and so you can’t have anything like a multi-year initiative, because you’re almost starting over again every February and very little carries over. If you can’t accomplish it in one year, you most likely won’t accomplish it.

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] And there are some things that just can’t be accomplished in one year. [Laughter]

Adler:

[Interposing] And reorganizing the board would be something that could not be done in one year—it was interesting, while I was president I became involved with the IEE in England.

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] Right.

Adler:

They did an amazing change. They had a board that was 150 members not just 30 to 40 members. And they had a committee that was put together, worked several years, and they ended up with what became an executive board, which actually became the real board, which had about eight members. Their committee was made up of top people in major corporations and universities and they carried such weight that their recommendations were accepted. We in the IEEE do not have involvement from people at that level. Anyway, you could jump back.

Hochheiser:

No, that’s okay. Because some of these issues—you’re quite right—and they’re still talking about restructuring the board today

Adler:

Oh, I’m sure they are. Without some major crisis, some real problem, it’ll never happen, because you have too many people on the board with their own constituencies, TAB, RAB, EAB etc. Everybody has their own constituencies and their own interest groups, even though as board members you are told by the IEEE lawyer that you’re supposed to be representing the IEEE membership as a whole. The biggest problem is the balance between the regional and technical sides of the house as each has 10 members on the board and neither group wants to give up any of its seats so we have gridlock on that issue.

Hochheiser:

Sure. One other thing that happened at this time was the board’s adoption of IEEE as a brand name and trying to stop using the full Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers except on legal documents.

Adler:

Yes. And that was another something I ended up getting bruised with. I was chair of the Branding committee and probably lost my reelection as chair of the Publications board due to controversy about this—but I guess in the end we did rebrand ourselves, and it was mostly successful. My IEEE career worked out as well as I took the opportunity at this point to run for IEEE President.

TAB VP: Industry and Globalization

Hochheiser:

You were Region 1 director for a two-year term.

Adler:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

And then there’s I think a year gap in-between then and when you—

Adler:

Became VP of TAB, that’s right. And so I went off the board for at least one year, and then I came back on the board as VP [of] TAB. During this period I became chair of several IEEE committees such as the Transnational Committee and the Meetings and Service Committee. The Transnational Committee was made up of the regional directors from Regions 8,9,10 and representatives from all of the IEEE boards. Its purpose was to further the globalization of the IEEE, something that I had championed over the years.

Then in 1999 I was elected TAB VP. There was an organizational change at that time and so the TAB VP term was shortened from two years to only one. It was always in theory a one-year appointment, but it was almost always renewed for a second year. But what drove this change was that TAB decided to have its VPs elected by the IEEE membership at large.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Adler:

And so I was actually the first elected TAB vice president. And - because before then it was done by - what is the name of the group?

Hochheiser:

The Assembly.

Adler:

The Assembly.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Adler:

The Assembly, which was made up by the sub board VP's and the IEEE officers, would elect all the vice presidents. TAB decided that being as large as it was, it was going to put it to the membership, and so I was the very first. In the process of doing that it went from a two-year thing to being VP elect, VP and then past VP, similarly to the IEEE presidency.

Hochheiser:

So does that mean it was a contested election?

Adler:

Yes, it was, and so I ended up running with, I think, two candidates, Laura Colito was one, and I don’t remember if there was another one or not. [Laughter] So yes, it was a contested election, but I did win. I did very little campaigning for that election. I think I may have contacted some of my former colleagues in the Electronic Devices Society to get their support.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Adler:

Individual members.

Hochheiser:

So now you’re VP of TAB.

Adler:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

And, well, now you have to run TAB.

Adler:

Yes, yes, yes.

Hochheiser:

How does one run TAB? [Laughter]

Adler:

Okay. I tried to run the meetings to an agenda where meetings actually ended at a reasonable time. This has been an issue with both TAB and the board, to have meetings that not only don’t end on time but often take many hours extra. I tried to change this and had some success. Relative to initiatives, I had strong feelings that the IEEE really didn’t have a very strong tie to industry. One of the problems is that IEEE no longer had involvement from upper levels of management in industry and so there was no strong connection with industry. I think that some years ago there had been more of this high end coupling but most of the current IEEE industry volunteers came from lower levels in their companies. Thus there was little visibility for the IEEE in industry and it was something that I felt that we ought to do something about. One of the other initiatives that I started as TAB VP was to extend my efforts on globalization that I had done in the Electron Device Society to all of the societies.

Hochheiser:

And I assume then your interest in these continued over the next number of years?

Adler:

It did. Going back a bit, because of my interests in globalization, I ended up as a member of a transnational committee, and in a few years I became chair of that committee for a couple of years running. And that was a committee where we tried to put initiatives forward that would improve the globalization in the IEEE. And it was a difficult and a slow-moving process, but I think overall our membership in both Regions 8, certainly, and 10, grew fairly significantly in those periods, and so we were doing some of the right things. As I mentioned earlier we added over 60 new chapters and society chapter affiliations in Region 8. Region 9 didn’t grow nearly as fast as Regions 8 and 10, however.

Hochheiser:

And was this growth reflected in the higher levels of IEEE?

Adler:

Yes. Well, you know, that’s a slow process too, but TAB has had vice presidents other than from the Regions 1 through 7, region 7 being Canada. But beyond that there hasn’t been until now a non-Regions 1 through 7 president in the IEEE. There were people who would try to run, but they, in fact, had no success. I remember a couple of years ago, this was after I was president, the nominating committee tried to put two non-Regions 1 through 7 people on the ballot, and they did, but then someone else decided to run, and ended up winning over these candidates. This occurred even though the nominating committee was attempting specifically to try to get a president from outside the United States.

Hochheiser:

In a few days we’ll have a president from Region 9.

Adler:

But he’s still—

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] Of course he’s also an American citizen. [Laughter]

Adler:

That’s the thing, yes. But at least it’s from Region 9.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Adler:

And I was glad to see that Pedro [Ray] won.

Hochheiser:

The other thing you mentioned while we broke was being chair of the Meetings and Services Committee.

Adler:

Yes, and that was something else that I got into. One of the things we ended up doing was writing a meetings manual, which still exists. We began it during my time there, and we worked very closely with TAB staff, because that’s where the vast majority of the meetings are. During my tenure then I also succeeded in elevating this committee from being a TAB committee to becoming a committee at the IEEE Board level.

Hochheiser:

Anything else from being the VP for TAB?

Adler:

No, at this point I must say I think the transnational emphasis was probably the biggest thing I was trying to accomplish then as TAB VP. It was only a one year job so it was difficult to accomplish very much.

Vice President for Publications and Staff

Hochheiser:

And then following being vice president of TAB you became Vice President for Publications.

Adler:

Right. And that was a little bit of a conflict, because the meetings ran in parallel, but I did that because I felt there were some things I could accomplish there. We looked at some of the publications that the IEE had done, and they had come up with some publications that were aimed at practicing engineers. One of the things that becomes obvious is that we don’t have many magazines that aren’t extremely technical. We have some, I mean Spectrum is one, the classic example, and some of the larger societies do have more magazine-oriented [publications], but there are fairly few. So for a person who isn’t actually in research, it’s hard for them to get an awful lot out of being an IEEE member. So as a result of that, you just don’t find a lot of people as IEEE members except in the research end of things, because our journals and meetings tend to be oriented that way. But the IEE had been successful in developing some more practically oriented publications. It was one of the things I tried to get moving when I was in Pubs which was an attempt to attract practicing engineers to the IEEE as well as being a way to become more relevant to industry. My approach was to add a more practical supplement several times a year, paid for by advertising, to some of the higher volume IEEE publications. Unfortunately we were not able to make it happen.

Hochheiser:

How closely did you work with the IEEE staff in these two vice presidencies?

Adler:

Oh, very closely because those had a lot of staff because it takes a lot of work to publish 120 journals and hold 400 technical meetings a year. So I worked very closely with Mary Ward Callan of TAB and Tony Durniak of PUB's. We got along very well, and we worked very closely with them and their staffs. They were both terrific people, and did a great job. I feel very strongly that all the staff I’ve interacted with over the years have been outstanding. I think they’re very good people, well-motivated, hard-working and I think they’re quite effective in what they do. I’m sure one of the frustrating parts of their job is the constant revolving door of volunteers that come through, and so, you know, I can appreciate that, and - but they manage to do a good job in spite of that.

Hochheiser:

One of the big things that happened as far as Pubs in this period was the launch of Xplore.

Adler:

Xplore, yes. And that was already going when I arrived there, but we focused on expanding that. The switchover from paper publications towards electronic publications was going on in real time then, and very successfully.

Hochheiser:

Yes. Anything particularly memorable either because it went well or because it didn’t go well?

Adler:

No, I think by and large it went very well. There were several concerns, and they’re probably still concerns right now. One of the concerns was that when people actually made the switch into the electronic form they would give up the paper publications. A key issue was what would happen to the net revenue associated with the two. Another issue in the transition into electronic publications was that companies would buy large licenses and people working for these companies could get free access to all of the IEEE publications. Of course we worked hard to secure this business because there was a lot of revenue with those licensees. But one of the perils of it was now you didn’t have to become an IEEE member to get access to IEEE publications. If you worked for IBM or GE, you had access to it because the company had a license. But I think the membership has held up surprisingly well. And another concern which I think we did make some progress on was just the whole business of archiving the digital libraries because over time formats change. In the past you could go into a library and easily look up paper publications from a hundred years ago. The question is how can we insure that this will be done in the future.

Hochheiser:

Another thing that happened at least with Spectrum is that Spectrum started developing exclusive online content in addition to what’s in the print magazine.

Adler:

Yes, but wasn’t occurring at that point.

Hochheiser:

That’s a little later?

Adler:

That must be fairly recent. It’s not something I was aware of.

Hochheiser:

Sometime in this era, might be a year or two after you were the VP for Pubs, Pubs’ name changes to the Publications, Services, and Products Board.

Adler:

Yes, yes.

Hochheiser:

And is that a substantive change or a name change?

Adler:

That’s just a name change.

Hochheiser:

You know, sometimes it’s hard to tell. [Laughter]

Adler:

No, that was just a name change.

Hochheiser:

And one more thing [that] happened was the IEEE Press forming a partnership with Wiley.

Adler:

That’s right, and that was going on during the time that I was there. And I think by and large that was managed pretty well, but it did mean some staff lost their jobs.

Hochheiser:

Why was that done?

Adler:

The issue was that Press was losing money, and so this was a way to keep the IEEE in the press business but without all the overhead associated with actually running that type of operation. So it was strictly a financial thing.

Board and Financial Crisis

Hochheiser:

In these two VP positions, you were also on the board again.

Adler:

Yes

Hochheiser:

Any particular board issues that you recall from—?

Adler:

[Interposing] From those days? Well, yes. The governance topic was always there when I was on the board. The beginnings of the financial crisis [were] also looming. And that really hit when I was president-elect, and Ray Findley was president. What had been happening over the years was there was a substantial amount of funds that the IEEE was slowly eating through, and it came to the point where the IEEE budget didn’t balance anymore. So what happened was that the various boards, TAB mainly, had to make up the difference. There was also the pressure for the boards that did not generate income such as RAB to cut expenses. And this caused a tremendous amount of angst and all sorts of finger-pointing occurred. People were claiming that money was being hidden and the books were being cooked, and asking how could this have happened all of a sudden. One of the main causes of the problem was with our investments in the era around 9/11/2001. Our investments did extremely poorly so the surpluses we had in the years before 9/11 made it appear that we had balanced budgets. It was referred to as "phantom reserves." There was a lot of acrimony. This was not one of the times when it was a lot of fun to be on the board and particularly to be president—I mean Ray Findlay had a terrible time as president dealing with that issue. Poor Dan Senese as well took a lot of heat and was accused of essentially cooking the books. Dan would stay up most of the night before several of the board meetings to prepare material to explain the problem - the tremendous acrimony over this financial crisis and how it occurred ended up on Dan's back. It was really tough on him.

Hochheiser:

The period around 9/11, that’s the whole dot.com bust.

Adler:

The stock market crashing, essentially. Not crashing but taking a real beating.

Retiring from GE and Joining MTI

Hochheiser:

And at the same time while this is happening, you retired from General Electric.

Adler:

Yes, and in some ways that actually helped. I think part of it was that I was enjoying what I was doing with the IEEE more than I was enjoying what I was doing for GE, and so I got the opportunity to leave a couple years early, and I took it. It was a good company, and I don’t feel badly about anything that happened there - it’s just that I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing anymore. I had been in more or less the same job for 15 years—

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] That’s a long time.

Adler:

It was a long time, and it’s just was not fresh anymore, and it was time for a change. If I had stayed around I would’ve wanted to do something different, but there was the opportunity to leave, and then I was IEEE president. So it gave me more time to do that. So all things considered, it worked out well.

Hochheiser:

Then you joined a small company called MTI.

Adler:

That’s true. One of my former bosses was on the MTI board. It was called Mechanical Technologies Corporation. They were going to start investing in energy-related companies, and they wanted someone to come and provide technical due diligence to these companies, and that’s what I did, for about a year. Then they took a totally different turn and decided to get into the micro fuel cell business - the attempt to make small fuel cells for portable electronics. And so that changed the nature of what I was doing very considerably. I had been working with other companies to locate good investment opportunities for MTI. And then the emphasis totally came into this fuel cell development, and over the years partly because of my IEEE activities, my involvement went down. It was still fun and I enjoyed it and tried to bring some of my experience in managing large technical and product developments to help in the fuel cell development. I mean it was technically very challenging - to make a fuel cell of that size, a little electrochemical factory that would fit inside a cell phone. And it hasn’t been successful as of yet. I think eventually it might, but it’s extremely difficult.

Running for President

Hochheiser:

What led you to decide that you wanted to be president of the IEEE?

Adler:

Well, that’s a good question too, and I remember when I was thinking about it, I thought about well, here I am. I was running for Pubs chair for the second time around, and I didn’t win. That was my one IEEE election that I lost. But it at least was by the Assembly and not the membership at large. So I had a year when I was off the board to think about things. And so I decided I will give it one chance, one try because there were issues in the IEEE that I cared about. There was the governance issues and there were the globalization concerns. I also wanted to try to make the IEEE more relevant to industry, and I thought well, maybe I could actually do some good if I was president. A somewhat naïve thought, but I decided to do it. I was lucky enough to get nominated by the board without even having to make a speech in front of the board. There were three of us that were up for nomination. My two competitors were nominated by the N&A Committee and I was not. But I was nominated on the floor. The board basically said all right, there are three people who are now potential candidates. A motion was raised to accept all three, and that was that. And I didn’t even have to make a speech. [Laughter] So that was real easy. I didn’t have to go the route of becoming a petition candidate, like my friend Ken Laker did. However, I wouldn’t have gone that route anyway as I didn’t want to be president that much.

I was on the ballot and I did some serious campaigning since I was only going to give it a single shot.

[End of Tape 1, beginning of Tape 2]

Hochheiser:

So you said for this position you did have to campaign.

Adler:

I did campaign. I took advice from Bruce Eisenstein who I followed in as TAB VP and used some of the methods he had used successively.

Hochheiser:

Ah.

Adler:

What I did was I did an e-mail campaign. With some effort I came up with lists of chapter chair people, and people who are on the various chapter governing committees, as well as all the societies and their leadership. One of the issues here is that you can't use any of the IEEE official electronic mailing lists so you have to create the lists yourself. I tried to drill down right into the chapter chairs throughout all of the regions. I campaigned on a note of industry relevance, globalization, and also the IEEE governance issues. And so I wrote and sent out a ton of e-mails to various people, and it wasn’t just once. I did it three times, once in the spring, once in the summer, and once near the balloting time. I never said vote for me. [Laughter] But, I said there were the things I was interested in accomplishing and please go out and vote. I also encouraged the chapter chairs to get their members to go out and vote. Less than 20% of IEEE members vote so I thought if I could get a few more to actually vote because of my emails, I might win.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Adler:

The net result was that I was successful with that, and in fact several people after me tried to do the same thing, without as much success. I won by a fairly large margin, and so I was pleased by that. I took it as a bit of a mandate.

Hochheiser:

Did you debate your opponents?

Adler:

Yes. There is one debate that occurred in the Philadelphia section, and so we were all together. And I think that was the only time.

President-Elect

Hochheiser:

So you win the election. Now you’re president-elect.

Adler:

Yes. Now I’m president-elect. And that was the year we sort of already touched on a little bit earlier.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Adler:

And that was a tough year - it was tough all the way around. Ray was the president, and I tried to support him and Dan too. Dan had a rough time in those board meetings as I mentioned; it was getting very nasty. I mean not just heated but nasty, and so I tried to do what I could. People were accusing Dan of hiding stuff, and not being truthful, I mean essentially lying. I just thought that was terrible. He wasn’t lying by any means, and the IEEE finances were sufficiently complicated that it was tough to get the story out. And he was trying to get the story out, and he tried really hard. I tried to help by making comments at the right time in the meetings. But, one of the problems, being the president-elect, was that I was part of the crime too. You managers somehow managed to let us slide into this financial morass. But not being the president, I had a little more latitude to speak, and so I tried to give Ray and Dan support. That’s what I remember most about being president-elect. I know Ray was really discouraged at times as he had other things he wanted to do as president. And you’ve obviously talked to him, so you know about it.

Hochheiser:

Dan retired shortly after that.

Adler: Yes. He retired and not on necessarily the greatest terms. I mean, he was essentially asked to leave, and so yes, I felt badly about that. I thought he was treated very poorly.

Hochheiser:

Another issue I know that IEEE was dealing with at this time, one of the after-effects of 9/11, were the legal restrictions-

Adler:

[Interposing] Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.

Hochheiser:

-on dealing with Iran and several other countries.

Adler:

-Iran, and they couldn’t use the IEEE name - I mean, their chapters had to be disbanded, effectively. We had to do it and it was so unfortunate. I got involved in it because I couldn’t avoid it. You had to deal with it, and I was president. I ended up working with the lawyers and trying to develop the best possible path for us going forward, to allow us to get back, and be able to reestablish ourselves in these countries. It was really so sad that it came to this.

Hochheiser:

And I guess it really brought some of the transnational versus U.S. issues to the fore?

Adler:

It did, yes. Because all of a sudden, the organization was looked upon as U.S.-centric, and you could not blame anyone for thinking it because of what the U.S. was doing. That also took a fair amount of time from the board as well.

Presidential Initiatives

Hochheiser:

Now you are IEEE president.

Adler:

When I came in I intended to be a fairly active president, and I did something that I doubt has been done since. I know it hadn’t been done before. I had a series of board retreats, essentially additional meetings before the board meeting. At the first two meetings of the year, I had a day before, which was not associated with actually running the board, but was trying to take the time to look at more strategic issues. And so I ran these two meetings ahead of the February and the June board series, and then in September I ran a governance workshop meeting. But the whole attempt was to try to jump-start some strategic issues. In addition, as a result of the financial mess that we were in, we had paid a company, Booz Allen, to do a study for us. I mentioned this earlier. And they reported out at the end of the year I was president-elect, and so it was on my lap. Here’s this Booz Allen study. We had to do it, plus they were saying the right things. They were making the points that the board is too big, it’s not functional, the terms are too short, the board doesn’t have enough continuity over the years to handle anything that at all gets into controversy. We try to have strategic plans, and we talk a good story, but rarely is anything done about them. So I felt that maybe by running these retreats we’d try to get more mileage out of that year by getting the board more face time with each other, not in a meeting mode, but in a workshop mode. We had one on governance, one on industry relevance, and one on globalization. We had working groups on these different topics. And out of that we came up with a strategic plan as well as some initiatives that carried over into the following years.

Hochheiser:

Are there any further initiatives as president you would like to highlight?

Adler:

One of the other things I did as president is I ran a meeting that involved industry leaders, some people that were at the vice-presidential level in large companies, including GE. We met down in Fairfield, Connecticut, GE’s headquarters. They hosted it down there. I had hoped to develop this into an actual steering committee, where we would have people who would stay on this committee over several years and give us advice on how to be more relevant to industry. Also, just by being on the committee and being involved I felt we would get more visibility in the various companies. My thinking was to pattern it similarly to a financial steering committee whose members were doing pro bono work for the IEEE by helping with our investments. I was hoping we could do something similar involving industry people that would get together, have a good time, play some golf, but also get together once a year maybe to talk about what we’re doing, and to give us advice. I came close, but I didn’t get it to happen. I won’t mention names, but people felt that this was not necessary, and we could run it on an informal way. And nothing runs in the IEEE in an informal way, because when the president disappears, everything changes, there’s a new guy, and unless you can establish it, and make it real, it isn’t going to continue.

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] Right.

Adler:

And that’s what happened. We came real close. If I had just a few more votes, I would’ve had the board approving it, but it didn’t work. But we did get something started that year, which did continue. I know we did try to form some partnerships with industry. There was a partnership program that started the following year, the year I was past president that is. And there were some partnerships actually formed. Boeing was one, and there were a couple of others. But I’ve kind of gotten out of touch with what’s been going on since - I don’t think they’ve gone real well. Maybe you know.

Hochheiser:

There are two companies I hear a lot about IEEE partnering with. One is Boeing.

Adler:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

And the other is IBM.

Adler:

Those initiatives were started in that time period and I think as a result of our interest in becoming more relevant to industry. So I think the genesis of those things started in my term. And it evolved in different fashions. The partnership initiative wasn’t something I directly started, but it came out of our efforts to be more relevant to industry. And I supported it. I supported it very strongly, because I thought it was a good idea. I’m glad to hear if it’s still continuing that means that something is happening.

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] Yes.

Adler:

So this is maybe one of the things I can point to, that might’ve made a difference which is always nice. You like to think back at what you did. Did it make any difference that you were there, you know? [Laughter]

Hochheiser:

[Laughter]

Running Board Meetings and Observations

Adler:

But we did more - we did a lot of strategic planning that year, I’ve got to tell you. That was very different. I also tried to run the meetings in a different way than some of my predecessors. When you get right down to it, what you realize is that the IEEE president really doesn’t have that much power, but he can do one thing. He can set the agenda for the meetings, and so I would do that. I tried to make sure that not everything that was associated with action items always went first. There were important discussion items that had to happen, and I would make sure those were far enough towards the top of the agenda that they didn’t fall off the end of the table at the end of the day. And any new business was put at the end of the agenda but we were going to stop the meeting at the prescribed time. The first two ran very smoothly and as I said, I mixed the action items with discussion items by topics that I prioritized. Some in the past had organized it all by action items, discussion items, like every action item was more important than any discussion item, and I didn’t see it that way. But at the third meeting, the board actually overruled me - the meeting got extended.

Hochheiser:

Any other observations on board meetings?

Adler:

The board spends way too much time with doing bylaws changes, and it’s just terrible how much time that would take. Most of the bylaw changes were trivial and a waste of time, like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. And a great deal of time was spent on these items, as many people on the board felt they had something to add to these trivial discussions. During that same period, the bylaws were being significantly rewritten, and there was some good things done. I mean, there’s a fair amount of stuff that was in the bylaws that should’ve been in procedures, not formally in bylaws. The bylaws were rewritten to take out a lot of this stuff and put it into a procedure manual, which didn’t take the board to vote on it to change it. And that did help, and I think we did end up with fewer bylaw changes. I also thought that devoting more of the meeting to strategic issues was a good thing. I know Art Winston, who followed me, had devoted specific times in his meetings to strategic discussions as well.

I also made use of a board caucus that was held before the board formally meets, a day or two days before. Well, I tried to get as much of the items put on the consent agenda at that time, so that when we came to the actual meeting, there were many fewer items that had to be dealt with. They could be pulled off by any board member, but once it went on a consent agenda, they usually ended up staying on.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Adler:

The board always did meet ahead of time but I just expanded that to include discussion of the items that were on the agenda and have a vote to put them on the consent agenda. It was not binding because anyone could remove them in the formal board meeting, but the vast majority of them stayed on the consent agenda, so we saved time. One reason it worked was that if the caucus vote was largely in favor people tended to leave the item on the consent agenda because they knew it would easily pass if it was actually put to a vote in the formal meeting.

Hochheiser:

And then you had more time to devote to the things that truly needed discussion.

Adler:

Truly needed discussion, yes. Some things were only going to be resolved during the actual meeting itself, and that’s just the way it is, yes. Another thing that I did was make use of a formal debate mode in discussions of a motion. The way this worked was that as chair I alternated people who were in favor of the motion with people who were against. If we ran out of one side, the discussion ended and we put it to a vote. Also, if I could see that we were rewriting a motion on the fly, I stopped the discussion and let the various people work out the wording off line and come back to the issue. This also seemed to save time.

Managing the IEEE and Colleagues

Hochheiser:

To what extent did you or can anyone manage an organization as large and complex as IEEE?

Adler:

Well, it is difficult, it is very difficult. I think we by and large do a good job. Certainly the mechanics of the IEEE I think are well managed. I mean, the computer system is working, we have all our publications, all our meetings, all that works like clockwork. It works very well. Certainly our standards work is outstanding, and that works extremely well, and the IEEE awards program works well. And so I think the IEEE does a good job basically managing its operations. But coming up with a really viable long-range plan and actually having it happen is something that’s very difficult. Having a board of that size with so little continuity on it makes it very difficult to have any follow through. So that was the biggest problem, and probably still is the biggest problem that the IEEE has.

Hochheiser:

How closely did you work with Dan Senese?

Adler:

Very closely. We were friends as well. I made a point of getting down to the headquarters a number of times. I always went down to spend a day or two before we would put the agenda together for the next meeting. I would sit down with Dan and we’d talk. He was a great guy - it’s not like he did everything perfectly. He recognized that he wasn’t spending enough time out in the trenches, so to speak, getting out, because he really was mostly focused on the full-time job of running the operations center. But he was evolving in that direction. He was getting out and going to different IEEE events, just to get maybe a better sense of what was really going on, rather than just from the board meetings. You can’t really tell what’s going on in the IEEE by sitting in one of those board meetings. There really are some great things happening as well as serious problems that you need to be on location to see.

Hochheiser:

[Laughter] Were there other staff members you worked closely with while you were president?

Adler:

Well, yes, Matt Loeb probably most closely. He was my right-hand man in many ways, so I worked with him really closely, and he’s also a friend. But he’s a great guy. I think he would be an effective director, and I know that’s in his sights. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, but he does a really good job. He’s very smart. He’s very organized and very articulate. All those retreats and everything, Dan, Matt, and I worked very closely on setting all that up, getting someone to actually run them, a third party person who was more of a facilitator. I also worked closely with Lyle Smith who was manager of the corporate side of the IEEE, the side that handles the board.

Hochheiser:

And you talked a bit about working with your predecessor, with Ray Findley.

Adler:

Yes. I worked with Ray. I also worked with Art. Art asked me to be chair of a continuing ad hoc committee on industry relevance. Of course we all have these other jobs all the time, having to do with making presentations, awards, and traveling around. I probably worked more closely with Ray than I did with Art maybe because being elect you’re the next guy, you’re the new guy, whereas I think past presidents are past presidents. [Laughter] I don’t think there was an awful lot accomplished when I was past president.

Presidential Travel

Hochheiser:

How much did you travel as president?

Adler:

I did a fair amount, and I have a lot of nice memories of that. In all cases my wife Virginia came along with me. I should mention actually that in addition to this industry forum that I did in the United States, I did two in Region 10 as well, in Singapore and Tokyo. We started out in New Zealand and Australia. I gave talks on IEEE matters as well as a technical talk on micro fuel cells. We went first to the Singapore meeting and we had excellent attendance from Singapore as well as many of the countries in this region. We then went onto to Tokyo where we had a similar meeting with people from many corporations in Japan. This trip went around the world, and ended up back in Seattle, because my last board meeting was in Seattle, and so we ended up going there directly from Japan. This was my longest trip but I also went to other places.

I ended up going to Russia and had some good meetings there. Some new Sections had just been formed. One was in St. Petersburg, so it was great to be there and show some support.

Probably the most pleasant trip I did as president was going to South America and to Panama. My wife Virginia and our daughter Emily were there with me. One of the things I did as president was to have executive committee meetings in different locations. We had one in Panama, and associated with that was a history center milestone award This was an award for the electrical equipment and engineering that went into building the Panama Canal. All of the locks and tugs that pulled the boats through the canal were driven with electric motors and then there was the electrical power plant in the dam that formed Lake Gatun. This plant had GE generators and they were still running. We presented the milestone plaque in the rotunda and that is where it is now for anyone to see. That was just a lot of good fun and a real feel good event. Sharing this experience with the people in the Panama section and presenting the plaque was one highlight of my presidency.

Getting back to industry partnerships I am glad this activity is continuing.

Hochheiser:

I know that I hear Matt Loeb at his staff meetings talk about the work with Boeing and with IBM on a regular basis.

Adler:

So you know something’s going on there.

Epcot Exhibit and Diversity

We started something else, too, that we had hoped would work, but it was a long shot. We were trying to get an exhibit put together at Epcot. I was able to free up a little money at the end of the year to get the process started, and they designed what was going to be an IEEE Epcot exhibit around a theme of "expanding your mind and thinking out of bounds". We were going to actually have people do some design problems, kids actually developing designs of amusement rides that would involve engineering, just to give them an idea what engineering was. The purpose was to increase the visibility of engineering careers since there has been a decline in interest in math and science. But the financing was the problem. We were hoping to be able to get TAB in the IEEE to put up some money, and we were also hoping to get industry to put up some. We couldn’t get the IEEE to agree as we were still hurting from the budget problems. It would have been something that would be in place now. This and the continuing work on the industry relevance ad hoc committee constituted most of my work as past president.

Hochheiser:

I have a couple of more questions. I don’t know whether these came up during your term, but there seem to be topics that rear their head periodically. One, finances, we’ve talked about.

Adler:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

Another is diversity, attracting minorities and women to the profession.

Adler:

Yes. There is diversity by region, by sex, by race. I felt very strongly about that as well, and we tried to make progress here. One of the things I have done since being president is being chair of a committee on the Fellow awards. We tried to do things to structure those awards so that it would make it easier for people who are not U.S. members to become fellows. We recommended some positive things that would help that process. Diversity is certainly an ongoing issue for the IEEE.

Hochheiser:

Yes. The balance between the technical, the TAB side and the regional, the RAB side.

Adler:

Yes. [Laughter] Yes. That’s like, that’s the great divide.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Adler:

But, you know, I always had good relationships with RAB. Part of the reason was that I was involved with them a lot. Being on the transnational committee involved mostly RAB people, because globalization is inherently a regional issue. So I worked with the regional directors very closely, and I always enjoyed doing that. And certainly when you’re president and you’re traveling around, you’re getting a chance to meet people in the regions. The regions do a lot of good work, and you like to see them supported as much as possible. That’s why it hurts so much when the ITAR regulations make it difficult to truly be a transnational organization.

Hochheiser:

Yes. So, on the other hand, the balance between the technical and the professional?

Adler:

I think we’re not balanced here at all with the emphasis being strongly research focused and not enough emphasis on the practicing engineers. The issue is better stated as research versus practicing engineering. Practicing engineers are professional but they are not focused on research and science. I think the IEEE could do more to make itself relevant to those groups, but without offering some products to make them interested, we’re are not going to be. If we don’t offer meetings and publications that have more of a practical bent we are not going to attract practicing engineers. That is not to say that we should change the ones we’re doing, but we should have some other ones that address this issue. So yes, I think we’re too much research focused in the US and in regions other than the United States, the IEEE is university-oriented. It’s not to say there’s no industry coupling, but in most of the countries there isn’t much. It tends to be more university-oriented, more academic and less industry-related.

Hochheiser:

Can you think of any other things from your presidency or the year before or after that we haven’t covered yet?

Adler:

You know, the issue that we discussed at the end about industry work was certainly one of the biggest ones, but we’ve discussed that quite well.

Post-Presidential Involvement and IEEE Changes

Hochheiser:

In what ways have you remained active and engaged with IEEE since completing your term as past president?

Adler:

Leah Jamieson asked me to chair a committee on the Fellow process which must be done every four or five years. Lew Terman was heavily involved in it, and we had several other people, and we put together some recommendations that I think will improve the Fellow evaluation process, the nomination process, and also the process to get people from other than IEEE Region 1 through 6 becoming Fellows. We also recommended changes to facilitate evaluations from people outside the US because people in the US are just not as familiar with the work done in other regions. The attempt here would be to have even non-IEEE people in these regions to comment on behalf of people who are candidates. And we also tried to change some of the criteria, so that a significant accomplishment that was unique to a region but not necessarily on a global scale would be considered for the fellow award. This has been the main thing I have done since being past president, and I did it for two years. I did it for Leah Jamieson and subsequently for Lew Terman.

Hochheiser:

In what ways has IEEE evolved or changed over the course of your many years of involvement?

Adler:

Well, certainly the most outward changes are in the technology, the digital technology has changed things a lot.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Adler:

And I think in the ways that most people would view the IEEE, it hasn’t changed very much though, because we’re still mainly known for our publications, our standards, and our meetings. We have our awards programs too and certainly our regional activities are important but little has changed. One of the regions’ biggest problems is finding meeting content that would attract people to take the time out of their schedules to attend regional meetings. And so we’ve tried to spend some time facilitating that by making it easier for IEEE people with good lectures to travel to regional meetings. That’s something that I’m sure is an ongoing problem.

Hochheiser:

Well, can you think of anything I’ve neglected to ask you?

Adler:

No, not now.

Hochheiser:

In that case, I believe we’re finished.

Adler:

Okay. Very good.

Hochheiser:

Thank you very much for your time.